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Thursday, 22 September 1949


Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Minister for Information and Minister for Immigration) . - It is interesting to find emanating from the Liberal party the principles contained in this bill - the first to be introduced by a private member for -many years. It was the Liberal party or its equivalent, together with the Country party, that tried to abolish the Arbitration Court in 1929.


Mr White - The Liberal party founded the Arbitration Court.


Mr CALWELL - The honorable member's interjection indicates his guilty conscience. He, together with the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser), and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), voted in this Parliament in 1929 to abolish the Arbitration Court.


Mr Fadden - To abolish it or transfer it?


Mr CALWELL - Its activities were to be restricted to two maritime unions, but it was to be abolished as a federal court, and workers were to be left to go to the State courts for the determination of their wages and conditions. The then Government had no mandate from the people to do so.


Mr Thompson - And it held no secret ballot to ascertain their wishes.


Mr CALWELL - That is so. Within twelve months of the election campaign at which spokesmen for that Government had promised to uphold- the federal arbitration system, it introduced such a measure into the Parliament. When an election was subsequently forced upon the country the Government was defeated and its leader, Mr. Bruce, lost his seat to the former secretary of the Trades Hall council, the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway). In a discussion of this sort I always like to give a little background history so that the public generally and comparative newcomers to this Parliament may know what motivates honorable members opposite when they talk about the Arbitration . Court. The two Opposition parties, and the Communist party, are the three political parties which have tried at some time or other to destroy the arbitration system. They have all failed.

The proposals in this bill are twofold. They have been dealt with extensively by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) out of the plenitude of his knowledge and experience of industrial matters. No one has had greater experience of this matter, both as an advocate in industrial matters before the High Court, and as an interpreter of our industrial laws as a distinguished member of the High Court bench, than has the right honorable gentleman. His criticism of this bill was so lucid and cogent that I should have thought the Opposition would withdraw it immediately after he had concluded his speech. Honorable members opposite persist in pursuing two lines of thought, the adoption of neither of which would have the slightest effect on industrial peace. They say, "Let us have a secret ballot before a strike. Do nothing about the causes of the proposed strike. If a secret ballot results in a strike, all will be well ". They also say, " Let us have a. secret ballot for the election of office bearers of the trade unions ".


Mr Holt - Deal with the second point.


Mr CALWELL - I shall come back to it later. The Attorney-General dealt with the second point equally as well as he dealt with the first one. The statute-book of Victoria contains a provision which is on all fours with the proposal now before us, but on every occasion on which the Premier of Victoria has been called upon to use the provisions of the Essential Services Act he has either run away from the challenge or has made a mess of the action which he has taken. In the case that was cited by the AttorneyGeneral involving the prosecution of certain members of the tramways union the persons who were prosecuted turned out to be anti-Communists who had voted against the strike. In one instance a summons was served on a man who had not been present at the union meeting in question and who, had he been present, would have voted against the proposal to strike. When provision is made for punitive action of the kind proposed we must be sure that what may be done shall be just and shall promote peace in industry. What is the purpose of the Arbitration Court? The court was appointed to promote and preserve peace in industry and to attempt to bring about better industrial relations. Judged by that criterion, the Arbitration Court has been eminently successful. The Opposition parties now propose that a provision be inserted in the act to provide for a secret ballot to be held before a strike is declared. Such a provision would not prevent strikes or lock-outs from occurring. In the metal trades strike, which took place a couple of years ago, the president of the Chamber of Manufactures, Mr. Cecil McKay, locked out certain engineers who were not involved in the first strike, and then objected strongly when the engineers said, after they had been permitted to return to work, " We have a few matters that we want to square up ". It will be impossible to implement the provisions of this bill because if workers in an industry decide to strike, as the Attorney-General says, the strike then becomes legal. Had a secret ballot of the coal-miners been held in the early stages of the strike, the majority of the miners would undoubtedly have voted in favour of the strike because the Communist party, with its incessant propaganda, had been exploiting the use of the strike weapon and had been misleading the coal-miners for a long time.


Mr Falstein - It had conditioned the minds of the coal-miners to favour a strike.


Mr CALWELL - That is so, and for some considerable period prior to the strike. If the miners had voted in favour of a strike, could the Government then have carried on, as it did, a successful campaign against the Communist party? In those circumstances the Government would have been seriously hampered in winning the great trade union movement to its side against what it believed to be a Communist conspiracy. It would not have been able to use. successfully, as it did with the cooperation of the trade unions, Army and Naval personnel to protect the community against the Communist conspiracy. The Australian Labour party was opposed in the strike openly by the Communist party and covertly by the Liberal and Australian Country parties. The Opposition parties wanted the Communists to win the strike in the hope that as a consequence the Government would lose the next election. The Communists lost the strike, and the Opposition will lose the election. That is the reason for a good deal of the soreness that has been exhibited by honorable members opposite in regard to this matter. Earlier the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) asked me to deal with the proposal relating to the holding of secret ballots for the election of office-bearers in the trade unions. In New South Wales the Labour caucus, in association with the Sydney Trades and Labour Council, has agreed upon the introduction of certain legislation containing provisions for the holding of secret ballots, for compulsory voting at such ballots and for compulsory unionism. These proposals all form part of one plan. Do honorable members opposite believe in compulsory unionism? Do they want compulsory unionism? They want only so much of the New South Wales plan as suits them. If they favour the plan as a whole let them propose an amendment to the bill now before us so that we can deal with the whole of the plan agreed to by the New South Wales Labour caucus. In most instances trade union rules provide for compulsory voting and secret ballots.


Mr CALWELL - When the sitting was suspended, I was about to refer to the provisions in the rules of the Waterside Workers. Federation, an organization with a Communist secretary and a Communist assistant secretary, which (provide for compulsory voting and for secret ballots. Many unions have rules which provide for the taking of secret ballots and some also have provisions for compulsory voting. I think that it is desirable that all unions should adopt those principles. The principle of compulsory and secret voting has obtained in Federal and State elections for many years and I can see nothing wrong in applying it to elections for leadership of trade unions. However, the unions have a suspicious attitude - borne of experience, of course, of the treatment they have received from anti-Labour parties over the years. They remember the attempt made by the BrucePage administration to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and they naturally suspect any proposal that emanates from the anti-Labour forces. To suggest that the unions should accept a suggestion that emanates from such a quarter is to strain their forbearance a good deal. They do not want secret ballots to be held in respect of strikes. I do not want to stress the matter any further because, as the Attorney-General pointed out with such great clarity this morning, the proposal of the right honorable member for Kooyong provides only for the taking of a secret ballot before deciding upon a strike. If such a ballot were taken and it resulted in favour of holding a strike, the arbitration authorities and the Government would be powerless to do anything. There will always be strikes, I suppose - at least, as long as capitalism survives. Whenever men feel discontented they will strike. However, I should think that strikes would now be reduced to a minimum by the streamlined arbitration machinery that this Government has introduced. Of course, some strikes are politically inspired, such as those instigated by the Communist party. Whatever the cause may bt, men will go on strike, regardless of the fact that they are the worst losers from strikes.

Strikes have occurred and, I suppose, they will continue to occur, not only amongst workers, but also amongst other classes of the community. I have here a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald of the 26th August last, which reports a meeting of the New .South Wales division of the Australian Primary Producers Union, and I particularly commend this report to the notice of members of the Australian Country party. That union claims to represent 9,000 New South Wales farmers, and on the previous day it voted overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal that farmers should strike or take direct action if they 'believed that such a course was necessary. Of course, this bill has no provision to deal with strikes of primary producers. It might be said that the primary producers are not an organization registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. However, the report also states that the conference decided " to seek registration with the Arbitration Court as an industrial organization ". The preceding paragraph states -

The Australian Primary Producers Union has 51,000 members in Australia, including 0,000 in New South Wales. It hopes to form one union for all primary producers.

If the farmers succeeded in obtaining registration with the court - I do not know whether or not they would be eligible to do so - what would 'be their position under this proposed legislation if they decided to go on strike to obtain better conditions? I remind honorable members that the farmers of Australia have come a long way in the last 28 years. At -one time they held very conservative views on such matters as industrial arbitration. I am indebted to one of my colleagues for a copy of the Melbourne Herald of the 31st March, 1931, which reported an annual conference of the Country party. Under the banner heading, " Farmers Want Arbitration Court Abolished ", the following report appears : -

By an overwhelming majority the 14th annual conference of the Victorian Country party decided to-day in favour of the abolition of the Arbitration Court.

Of course, that is a little ancient, but I remind members of the Australian Country party of the question in the Bible-

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?

The Australian Country party is just as much out of touch with the primary producers of this country to-day as it was in 1931. Then, as now, that party represents primarily the big squatters and wealthy land-owners who want to get rid of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The workers realize that, and for that reason they look suspiciously upon any proposals that emanate from the present Opposition parties to alter the rules which regulate the court. In my collection of newspaper and other clippings I have found the Hansard report of a speech that was delivered by Sir Stanley Argyle in the Victorian Legislative Assembly on the 30th June, 1931. At that time Sir Stanley Argyle was the Leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, and the present Leader of the Opposition in this House was either Sir Stanley Argyle's deputy or his third in line. I know that at one time the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber was deputy leader of .Sir Stanley Argyle's party in the Victorian Parliament. In discussing the attitude of his political party to the unemployment relief proposals advocated by the Australian Labour party, Sir Stanley Argyle said -

My friends opposite will have to disregard standards of living, basic wages and Commonwealth Arbitration Court awards. If they do not, then something worse is coining to them.

I remind the House that those words were uttered by the honorable gentleman less than two years after the Bruce-Page Government has attempted to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The idea that is still uppermost in the minds of many members of the Opposition is to get rid of the court. They do not like the idea of collective bargaining at all. They want to revert to the old principle of laisser-faire, and to afford free play to the law of supply and demand. If they have to tolerate the existence of trade unions they will seek to regulate- them as much as possible in the interests of the employing class. That is the reason why the workers of Australia have no faith in the Opposition parties and cannot possibly place any confidence in any proposal that emanates from the Opposition.

Before the suspension of the sitting I had referred to the fact that in this

Parliament in 1928 the Leader of the Bruce-Page Administration moved to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Significantly, the only four members of the present Parliament who voted for his motion are in Opposition to-day. They are the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). It is true that Mr. Bruce tried to sugar-coat the pill by offering the assurance that the workers would revert to the control of the State industrial arbitration systems. However, he also said that because the States had refused to transfer additional powers to the Commonwealth, the worsening condition of the national economy demanded that the nation should get rid of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and he hinted very darkly at the storm that was then looming, and which later culminated in a 10 per cent, reduction of wages. Subsequently, Mr. Bruce lost his own seat to a man who only a short time before had been the general secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council and is now the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) in the present Government. Now, we view with the greatest suspicion the proposals which emanate from honorable members opposite. We know why the Government of New South Wales is introducing legislation to provide for the holding of a secret ballot of members of trade unions for the election of office bearers. Allied to that proposal is the proposal for compulsory unionism. If honorable members opposite want a secret ballot for the election of office bearers of trade unions, are they also prepared to agree to the principle of compulsory unionism? There was a day when they did not want even preference to unionists. An election was fought in this country on the issue, of preference to unionists, and the Labour parry won it.


Mr Edmonds - There was a day when employers did not want unionists.


Mr CALWELL - Yes, and that was not so very long ago. The honorable mem ber for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), in their role as organizers of the Australian Workers Union, have been chased off properties by graziers and squatters who did not want shearers to be organized so that they could claim award rates of pay. Many men in the industrial life of this country, including some members of this Parliament, have known victimization at the hands of employers' organizations for their activities on behalf of unionism. The interest of the Opposition in the cause of unionism is not so convincing as honorable members opposite think it is. As the Attorney-General has pointed out, the Parliament of "Victoria passed the Essential Services Act, but that legislation has never been used. Every time the Premier, Mr. Hollway, has indicated that he intended to use it, he has either withdrawn from a position which he has found to be untenable, or has ultimately refused to act.


Mr Duthie - He has changed his mind repeatedly.


Mr CALWELL - That is so. When he launched prosecutions on one occasion, he summonsed the men who had opposed strike action and were supporters of the Labour party, but he did not serve one summons on the Communists. One man whom he summonsed was not even at the meeting when the decision to strike was taken. Mr. Hollway gave, as his excuse, that as the union officers were elected under the provisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, they probably were not within the reach of State legislation. So he had some excuse. Everybody who knows Mr. Hollway recognizes that he is the worst Premier that Victoria has ever had, and that he is leading the most hopeless government that any State parliament in Australia has ever known. He is hardly the person to cite as an example of how to operate legislation such as that which is proposed in the first provision of this bill.

I believe that it is a good thing that we occasionally have an opportunity to study a bill that has been introduced by a private member. In my opinion, the Parliament would be better if, occasionally, private members' bills were circulated and discussed. That procedure has not been followed since the Parliament has met in Canberra, with the exception of this occasion.


Mr Holloway - That is not so.


Mr Francis - There was one other occasion.


Mr CALWELL - At any rate, such occasions have been altogether too rare. I ask honorable members opposite, who seem to be so concerned about the right of the worker to have a voice in the control of the affairs of the union to which he belongs, whether they are prepared to give the worker, as a worker, an equal right with every other citizen in the election of members of the four reactionary Legislative Councils in Australia. The workers are as much entitled to that right as they are to the right to vote in a secret ballot in union affairs. The restricted property franchise in legislative Council elections puts hundreds and hundreds of ballot-papers into the ballot-box before the election really begins - all to the disadvantage of the wage-earner of the community. The Commonwealth Parliament - and that includes the Senate - is the only real, popularly-elected Parliament in Australia outside the unicameral system which operates in Queensland. I make those remarks in passing because I think that if we are to be a real democracy, if we are to have compulsory unionism, and if we are to have secret ballots in respect of union affairs and for the popularly elected chambers of the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, then we should make provision for compulsory voting and universal sufferage for the election of members of Legislative Councils. Those chambers deal with such matters as strike prevention, increased production and industrial relations in State legislation and if the principle which the Leader of the Opposition has enunciated to-day is laudable, it is a good thing in respect of our parliamentary set up. My own purely personal view on the matter is that we should make some provision in our constitution, by a referendum, for setting up an authority clothed with full statutory powers and including representatives of employers and employees to deal with industrial relations, the management of industry and all other matters relating to the promotion of peace in industry, increased production, and the increasing of the workers' share of the productivity of their own labour. We shall not obtain peace in industry merely by paying a worker a regular wage or salary. If the industry is thriving, the worker is entitled to share in the bounty that he is helping to create.


Mr Archie Cameron - Incentive payments ?


Mr CALWELL - I do not believe in the kind of incentive payments which the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has in mind. They are a spur to the worker to make him produce more for the boss. The worker should have a share in the management and the profits. He is certainly at a tremendous disadvantage to-day, and any proper system would make provision for him to receive those benefits.

I believe that the bill is entitled to more consideration. The first part is unacceptable to the workers at any time, and I do not believe in going very much beyond the point to which the organized trade union movement of this country is prepared to go with the Government. The unions showed at their congress yesterday that they are prepared to endorse what they regard as fair and legitimate provisions. They endorsed the action taken by this Parliament to prevent corruption in union ballots. I think that they will be educated eventually to the view that we should have compulsory voting and secret ballots for the election of union office bearers. I see nothing wrong with the proposal in principle, but it is the suspicion, borne of the experience of the last few decades which makes them chary of anything that emanates from honorable members opposite. The explanation that the Attorney-General has given of the relevant provisions of the existing act, and of the intentions of the Government generally, should satisfy any person of goodwill, and I support all that the. right honorable gentleman has said. I urge honorable members opposite to desist from the attacks which they are continually making on the working class, as if the workers are the people who are responsible for every disturbance that occurs in industry.

As Minister for . Immigration, I acted in association with the Minister for Labour and National Service a few days ago in helping to convene a conference under the chairmanship of the Minister for Building Materials in New SouthWales in an attempt to get a number of new Australians into brickworks in that State. What did we find? Just before the coal strike the employers, in order to encourage a number of workers to go into the brick pits, offered a bonus payment. When the coal strike was in progress and the employers thought that a considerable number of new Australians were available, they decided to withdraw the bonus. They thought that the new Australians would work for them at lower rates, and that, consequently, Australians would be forced to work with them for lower wages. There is a greed and an avarice on the part of a big section of employers in Australia which must be contended with. The employers in the brickworks did not get the new Australians on the conditions that they offered. They had to continue to pay the bonus to the Australians, who went back to their employment after the strike, and also to the new Australians who they had engaged. However, the owners of two clay pits held out. The employers are more at fault in respect of industrial stoppages than are the workers. All the worker has to sell is his labour, for which he receives payment in the forms of wages or salary. On that payment he and his family depend for their existence. If he goes on strike he loses his wages, but the employer, particularly if he is associated with a big company, can sit back and draw on reserves, without suffering any deprivation. By their cupidity and selfishness, employers often contribute greatly to industrial troubles, which every one deplores. I endorse the views that have been expressed by the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt).







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